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Opinion: How to plan for a stress-free Christmas

A little forethought can take a lot of the stress out of the season for one and all.

Ciara Conlon

IT STARTS LATE October: the minute the ghosts and vampires are back in their coffins, out come the jingle bells. Infuriating, I know, unless you are in the retail business – but for the rest of us we would rather still be carving pumpkins than hanging sparkling things.

Whether you are a lover or a hater, the holidays are here again and if we give them a little thought in advance it can take a lot of the stress out of the season for one and all. If you haven’t already, it is time to start thinking about the presents. And just like the old saying goes, the best time to start was yesterday and if you missed yesterday you probably should get going today.

Advanced planning will help give you a bit of control over the coming month and believe me when I say no one is too cool to start their shopping early.

The Plan

“Start with the end in mind” Stephen Covey told us. Picture your ideal Christmas holiday. What needs to happen to achieve that? The gifts, the food, the parties, the house, the clothes. Whatever is on your list for the ‘perfect christmas’, grab your coat it’s time to get started.

The List

It’s not just the big fella that gets to write lists. If you are smart you will have a couple written for all the areas you need to attend to. Categorise your lists and create one for gifts, one for food, one for household chores, etc. You may even want to do up a spreadsheet, then you could record all your purchases in it and make sure you don’t go over budget.

The Budget

What’s that? A budget is an amount you are willing to blow in one month. Decide how much you want to spend and stick to it. Break it down into how much for gifts, for food and drink, socialising etc. Then break it down into how much you will spend on each person. If you don’t have the money to spend, you could get a small loan from the credit union or preferably from family – but ideally adjust your spend to suit your budget.

It’s difficult to stick to a budget when other kids on the street are getting big gifts, but most of us had to live through the same phenomenon and we all got out the other side. Try to stick to your budget, otherwise you risk going into 2015 in debt, stressed and unhappy – not an ideal way to ring in a new year.

Once you have your plan, your lists and your budget you should get started straight away. Plan some time to go shopping, ideally not when the rest of the country are at the shops too. Try shopping late at night or early morning if you are dropping kids off at school. You could try to shop local as much as possible, support your local retailers and if they don’t have what you are looking for you could try online.

Tick things off your list as you get what you are looking for and write down the price beside the item. Keep a running total so that you know how much you have spent and how much you have left to go.

When you have all this done you should have finally found acceptance that the silly season is here and have acknowledged that you as much as anyone has a role to play in making it fun.

With a bit of advance planning, you will be feeling relaxed, in control and even jolly when it’s time to don the Christmas woollens.

Ciara Conlon, The Productivity Coach, is a speaker, consultant and author of Chaos to Control, a Practical Guide to Getting Things Done. Find out more about Ciara’s publications and online courses at theproductivityblog.com. You can follow her on twitter @ciaraconlon

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